Why gender inclusion is good for business

At Safaricom, we have created an agenda that seeks to actively interest girls in technology

1st March 2016
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One of the questions I am asked most frequently is how a technology company operating in Africa (like Safaricom) is able to identify the right talent for its needs.

As Africa is widely seen as an importer of information and communications technology, there was the fear that there was not enough home-grown talent to manage the need of the expanding technology sector.

For years, the concern was that there were too few highly skilled technical personnel on the continent to help fuel the rapid growth of new technologies across the continent.Businesses joined hands with learning institutions, governments reformed their syllabi, and professionals formed mentorship groups hoping to bridge the knowledge gap. The results have been impressive.

But there is a more compelling gap that we rarely talk about, and which is seldom addressed anymore; and that is the continued gap between equal opportunities for men and women.

As an illustration, as one of Kenya’s biggest employers, we are often pleased to say that we have achieved an almost 50/50 balance in terms of creating equal opportunities for the men and women who work for us.

However the picture is very different once you analyse those numbers.

We have found that the majority of women we hire are at entry jobs, with just a handful of them making it to mid-level and senior posts.

Over the last few years, Safaricom has managed to invest in its female employees to boost the number of women who sit at board or who hold top managerial seats. For instance, our executive committee has five out of its 11 posts filled by women.This trend is not replicated very often across much of the globe; proof that it is still very much a man’s man’s man’s world, nearly 50 years after James Brown’s hit single with the same title.

More worryingly, women already in leadership posts are not hiring women. Some even say women do not want leadership positions.

This is not a problem unique to Africa, where some of the strongest cultural biases still dictate the way women are treated or expected to act.

Globally, just 22% of senior roles are held by women, compared with 19% in 2004. Almost a third of businesses have no women in their senior leadership teams, although this number has fallen by 6% over the past three years.

The tech sector is often the worst culprits: just 17% of Google’s workforce are women and the story is no better at younger start-ups such as Airbnb where it’s 13% or Pinterest at 14% or even Dropbox where it shrinks to just 6.3% of the population.

How critical is this to future economic growth?

For businesses, a growing body of research reveals that the impact of a more inclusive gender agenda can directly impact their financial bottom line.

A new report by Granton Thornton reveals that companies with diverse executive boards consistently outperform their peers – with the opportunity cost for companies with male-only executive boards (in terms of lower returns on assets) at a staggering US$655 billion in 2014.

In practical terms, this means that shareholders are looking for companies who invest in having women in senior roles and will follow that interest with cash.

In addition, hiring from diverse groups allows companies to benefit from ‘informational diversity’, where the aggregate views of create a melting potthat boosts innovation.

Countries will benefit from greater inclusiveness too.

As the world adopts new Sustainable Development Goals to drive the next 15 years of development, none of the goals that countries have committed to will be accomplished without putting women at the centre of our efforts.

A similar report by McKinsey found that if every country committed to gender parity within its key businesses, the global GDP could increase by up to $12 trillion by 2025.

But beyond the numbers, we need to focus on this issue because it is simply the right thing to do.

Excluding women from any equation removes 50% of the population; as President Barrack Obama recently said: no team can survive when half of the players are absent.

At Safaricom we have created an agenda that seeks to actively interest girls in technology from the age of six through our Women In Technology series. We enable young pre-teen girls to think about the biggest challenges facing their country and then pair them with engineers who can bring their ideas to life. Every quarter, we give recent university graduates access to the country’s best female leaders to gain from mentorship opportunities.

But we know that embracing diversity will not be resolved by simply hiring more women – or even persons with different abilities, ethnicities or race – to meet the ‘right’ quotas in our books.

We must understand that the diverse workplace will cultivate an environment where our top business leaders will have the room to steer our businesses to their next phase of growth.

Only then will it stop being a man’s world.

Three Tips:

  • Own It! Identify how well you score on diversity then take the right steps to make a difference.
  • Reward It! Mobilise your workforce to identify diverse talent and create incentives that align with promotion and recognition.
  • Evangelise It! Create strong networks and company systems that boost opportunities for employees with diverse backgrounds.

SN
By Bob Collymore